The Curse of the Diamond Hand: A Modern-Day Fairytale

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Frozen had the potential to do really interesting things — and the original Andersen story, The Snow Queen , has a host of amazing female characters. Were there not even any family dinners? Did Anna never have a chance to talk to Elsa about this, or think to ask her parents what on earth had just happened and why the family was suddenly acting as though her sister was a monster? What happens next is creepy on so many levels. And then he tells Elsa that she will need learn to control her powers!

Right then! Like a wizard tutor, or something? Or we could just bring her down for some supervised lessons once a week? What could possibly go wrong? But the thing is, the horrifying way they treat their daughters is never ever coded as abusive. When the king and queen die, what on earth happens to the kingdom?

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Who is running it? And later, he is seemingly able to convincingly claim the throne on the basis of his verbal account that he and Anna said their marriage vows just before she died in his arms. Furthermore — in all those three years, who was still keeping Anna locked indoors? I just… wow, no. Who knew that ice magic could also do lipstick and eyeshadow? To quote Colman again:. Throwing the doors open to women with a new generation of intelligent, capable female characters who are not defined by whom they fall in love with is a smart move, and Disney knows it.

But Disney has, and has always had, a fine line to tread between breaking new ground, and maintaining the comfort of tradition, or it risks losing the millions in ticket sales and merchandise that comes from the old vanguard. Is it more feminist just because there are two princesses instead of one — even though neither of them seem to have personalities or interests or consistent psychologies?

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Does it skewer the love-at-first sight trope by undercutting the relationship between Anna and Hans — even though it then goes on to have Anna and Kristoff fall for each other in a similarly short space of time? Well… no. I promised a write-up of the workshop, so here it is! The workshop was attended by 25 people I raised the initial cap of 15 due to lots of interest and LaDIYfest being even more popular than anticipated. Although it was a child-friendly workshop by request of the LaDIYfest organisers, we ended up with a group of adults.

We began with introductions, everyone being invited to share their name, pronoun, and one thing from a fairytale that has stuck with them for any reason. Responses were very diverse!

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Many people mentioned Disney — some with fond memories, some citing it as their early encounters with the beauty myth all the princesses had such amazing hair! There were two participants with different memories of a similar story: one remembering that a girl was married by a prince because gems fell from her mouth when she spoke to him making what she actually said meaningless, and his supposed love for being based entirely on her material worth ; the other participant forgot the marriage element and remembered the backstory, in which this girl is rewarded with her gem-speech for being kind to an old woman in contrast to her two older sisters, who were unkind and so punished by having snakes and toads fall from their mouths.

How else do fairytales work? What do they do? What is the purpose of a fairytale? Changelings and kitchen fairies and gnomes in the woods — ordinary people coming across them. They can be aetiological — that is, providing explanations for things, whether for natural phenomena like storms , features of the landscape like an oddly-shaped mountain — could it be a giant, sleeping and turned to stone?

They are often a didactic form — stories intended to teach the listener in some way. Fairytales told to children are often warnings against danger — cautionary tales about telling lies The Boy Who Cried Wolf or talking to strangers Little Red Riding Hood , showing extreme and unpleasant consequences. They allow children to experience risk and excitement without actually experiencing it.

More generally they are often about moral conduct — the good are rewarded and the bad are punished. They can also be ways of teaching about the rules of the time — which is different from morals, in that often social rules can be unfair or oppressive, but the listeners are still being taught to negotiate life under them. In a discussion about this at the LaDIYfest gig, with a school teacher, we talked about this being a good way to engage children with re writing fairytales — by talking about them as being ways to teach people about a belief.

But these stories, which seem to take place in a mysterious past, were recorded as literary artefacts at a time where these stories were taking place in a mundane present. At the time they were recorded, they were taking place in the contemporary world. Another interesting digression: the modern equivalent of fairytales is perhaps the urban legend? Stories can be quickly reproduced and disseminated, regardless of how true they are — consider the necessity of Snopes.

Is it different for male characters and female characters? In contrast, most female protagonists that we can remember are only offered marriage: while this may involve a rise in social status e. Cinderella marrying a prince , there is no corresponding acquisition of wealth and power except in a sort of auxiliary way: wealth as a consequence of marriage and power inasmuch as she can influence her husband.


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Other common resolutions are a long and happy life. Different cultures may have different ideas of what this entails — French versions of fairytales having a stronger emphasis on reproduction, on procreative marriage as the goal rather than marriage which affords higher social status. All these resolutions are to an extent ideological — they are transmitting messages about the place and purpose of women, and about the importance of heteronormative relationships.

Other resolutions can be simply about escaping danger — avoiding the troll under the bridge, escaping the wicked witch.

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Survival is sometimes all a fairytale character can hope for! And then, we have the flipside of the resolutions where the good are rewarded — we have resolutions where the wicked are punished. These punishments can be brutal and extreme — dancing in red-hot shoes until death, being dragged through the streets in a barrel full of spikes, vomiting snakes every time you try to speak.

These can be genuinely horrifying — are they meant to scare children into good behaviour, or provide them with a gory thrill, or both? Are these punishments disproportionately meted out to female characters? Who are our favourite female fairytale characters? The new Disney version, Frozen , seems to have changed the story in very significant ways — there have been a variety of responses about the gender politics of this so far, both sceptical and approving.

Different aspects of the Cinderella story came up — while the Disney version based on the French Cendrillon has her in a quite passive role, other versions like the German Aschenputtel have her being cunning and resourceful, and aided by the spirit of her dead mother. A version of Rumplestiltskin was highlighted as interesting because the female protagonist is displaying hubris — she gets herself into her dilemma by boasting that she is able to spin straw into gold. Is this a fable about putting women in their place? The Three Spinners is interesting, because rather than the moral of rewarding hard work and punishing laziness, the girl who hates spinning and accepts the skilled help of three women who are good at spinning is rewarded by never needing to spin again!

A number of Disney stories also got brought up — more about them below! I also remembered Catherine and Her Destiny , which has the female protagonist journeying for seven years and working for different women while pursued by a cruel female anthromorphic Destiny, before eventually, she finds employment with a kind woman whose own Destiny is able to intervene.

Photograph by Steve Ullathorne. Although there are these stories with cunning and resourceful women, and women going on quests, they seem to be harder for people in this group to call to memory. Disney films kept on coming up as we discussed female characters, and so it was definitely time to move on to the next point of discussion: modern fairytales.

But does the moral of the story undermine this, as she learns a lesson about not being single-mindedly ambitious and having time for love as well? Themes of motherhood are, of course, also important in fairytales more generally, but their specific examples in Disney is where the conversation went!

What modern fairytales aside from Disney are doing interesting things with gender? The Wizard of Oz — and indeed the spin-off story Wicked — both focus on interactions between female characters, and Dorothy is the hero of a quest. I think this could be one of the stories from a book called The Practical Princess and Other Liberating Fairytales , which was an expressly feminist collection of fairytales for children that was published in the late 70s.

So — modern fairytales are not necessarily written with the intention of making some kind of ideological intervention, although they usually do end up reflecting the values of the author in some way. The group split into two — one taking the pictures and throwing ideas around about what they might write, the other continuing with a facilitated discussion about rewritten fairytales more generally. How about the political dimension of fairytales?

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Many fairytales can be seen as individualist — dealing with the exceptions, people who transcend the social order, the poor third sons of millers who become dukes and princes through their bravery, the goose girls who become ladies and princesses through their kindness. If rags-to-riches tales are individualist, what might a collectivist fairytale look like? What might an anarchist or anti-capitalist fairytale look like? Another example was The Mouse that Made the Butter , a story of two mice who fall into a pail of milk: one sees that there is no way to climb out, so gives up and drowns; the other continues to stay afloat and swim vigorously for as long as possible, and the motion of the swimming churns the milk into buttter so the mouse can at last clamber out.

This valorisation of persistence in the face of seeming impossibility, and of struggle and resistence, might provide an idea for what a socialist or collectivist fairytale might look like. I think it needs some more refining before I read it in public, though! Perhaps fairytales are able to universalise stories of struggle and resistance in a way that makes them more accessible? The power of telling our own stories and having them heard is vital and can be agents of political change and awareness — one example brought up was the writing and art of Palestinian activist Shahd Abusalama.

What about fairytales as escapism? There has been comment somewhere; possibly in relation to Angela Carter? Instead, she has chosen to open the door of truth. For folklorist Bruno Bettelheim , Bluebeard can only be considered a fairy tale because of the magical bleeding key; otherwise, it would just be a monstrous horror story. Bettelheim sees the key as associated with the male sexual organ, "particularly the first intercourse when the hymen is broken and blood gets on it.

For scholar Philip Lewis, the key offered to the wife by Bluebeard represents his superiority, since he knows something she does not. The blood on the key indicates that she now has knowledge. She has erased the difference between them, and in order to return her to her previous state, he must kill her. According to the Aarne—Thompson system of classifying folktale plots, the tale of Bluebeard is type The tales where the youngest daughter rescues herself and the other sisters from the villain is in fact far more common in oral traditions than this type, where the heroine's brother rescues her.

Other such tales do exist, however; the brother is sometimes aided in the rescue by marvelous dogs or wild animals. This is particularly noteworthy among some German variants, where the heroine calls for help much like Sister Anne calls for help to her brothers in Perrault's Bluebeard.


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It is not explained why Bluebeard murdered his first bride; she could not have entered the forbidden room and found a dead wife. But some scholars have theorized that he was testing his wife's obedience, and that she was killed not for what she discovered there, but because she disobeyed his orders. That is also why it is written that the blood is collected in basins.

In Edward Dmytryk 's film Bluebeard , Baron von Sepper Richard Burton is an Austrian aristocrat known as Bluebeard for his blue-toned beard and his appetite for beautiful wives, and his wife is an American named Anne. Other versions of Bluebeard include: [25] [26]. In Charles Dickens ' short story Captain Murderer , the titular character is described as "an offshoot of the Bluebeard family", and is far more bloodthirsty than most Bluebeards: he cannibalises each wife a month after marriage.

He meets his demise after his sister-in-law, in revenge for the death of her sister, marries him and consumes a deadly poison just before he devours her. Bluebeard is a generous, kind-hearted, wealthy nobleman called Bertrand de Montragoux who marries a succession of grotesque, adulterous, difficult, or simple-minded wives.


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  • His first six wives all die, flee, or are sent away under unfortunate circumstances, none of which are his fault. His seventh wife deceives him with another lover and murders him for his wealth. In Angela Carter 's The Bloody Chamber , Bluebeard is a s decadent with a collection of erotic drawings, and Bluebeard's's wife is rescued by her mother who rides in on a horse and shoots Bluebeard between the eyes, rather than by her brothers as in the original fairy tale. In Joyce Carol Oates ' short story, "Blue-Bearded Lover", the most recent wife is well aware of Bluebeard's murdered wives: she does not unlock the door to the forbidden room, and therefore avoids death herself.

    She remains with Bluebeard despite knowing he is a murderer, and gives birth to Bluebeard's children. The book has been interpreted as a feminist struggle for sexual power. In Helen Oyeyemi 's Mr. Fox , Mr. Fox is a writer of slasher novels, engaged to a woman named Mary.

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    Mary's father scared her as a little girl by telling her of all the women that were killed by disobeying men. Mary questions Mr. Fox about why he writes about killing women who have transgressed patriarchal laws, making him aware of how his words normalize domestic violence. Kurt Vonnegut 's Bluebeard features a painter who calls himself Bluebeard, and who considers his art studio to be a forbidden chamber where his girlfriend Circe Berman is not allowed to go.

    In Donald Barthelme 's Bluebeard , the wife believes that the carcasses of Bluebeard's previous six wives are behind the door. She loses the key and her lover hides the three duplicates. One afternoon Bluebeard insists that she open the door, so she borrows his key. Inside, she finds the decaying carcasses of six zebras dressed in Coco Chanel gowns. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. For other uses, see Bluebeard disambiguation. This article needs additional citations for verification. Please help improve this article by adding citations to reliable sources.

    Unsourced material may be challenged and removed. Cambridge University Press. Tales of Faerie. Childhood Reading. All That is Interesting. New York: W. New York: Penguin Books. New Jersey: Princeton University Press. New York: Ballantine Books. The Uses of Enchantment. New York: Vintage Books. A reader's Guide to the English Tradition. California: Stanford University Press. Knopf, Inc. The Folktale. Seeing Through the Mother Goose Tales. Stanford University Press.

    University of Mississippi. Fox an English tale ". Sur La Lune Fairy Tales. Spiegel Online. The New Yorker. Los Angeles Review of Books.

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